Exposure to Pesticides May Cause Diseases in Future Generations

First Posted: Jul 24, 2014 05:32 PM EDT

It turns out that ancestral exposure to pesticides may just cause adult onset kidney disease, ovarian disease and obesity in future generations. Scientists have examined methoxychlor and have found that it could impact children for years to come.

"What your great-grandmother was exposed to during pregnancy, like the pesticide methoxychlor, may promote a dramatic increase in your susceptibility to develop disease, and you will pass this on to your grandchildren in the absence of any continued exposures," said Michael Skinner, one of the researchers, in a news release.

Methoxychlor, which is also known as Chemform, Methoxo, Metox or Moxie, was first introduced in 1948. It was widely used in the 1970s as a "safe" replacement for DDT on crops, oriental plants, livestock and pets. Although it was banned in the U.S. in 2003, it seems like the chemical may still haunt us today.

The researchers exposed gestating rats to methoxychlor at a range typical of high environmental exposures. This resulted in an increase in the incidence of kidney disease, ovary disease and obesity in offspring spanning three generations. In addition, the incidence of multiple diseases increased in the great-grandchildren of the rats.

So what's causing this phenomenon? It's possible that the pesticide may be affecting how genes are turned on and off in the progeny of an exposed animal, even though its DNA and gene sequences remain unchanged. This is called transgenerational epigenetic inheritance.

The findings reveal that ancestral exposures to methoxychlor over the past 50 years in North America could be playing a role in today's increasing rates of obesity and disease. In addition, the findings have implications, such as reduced fertility, increased adult onset disease and the potential to pass on these conditions to future generations.

The findings are published in the journal PLOS One.

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